When suicide bombings are newsworthy

The right wing wants the "liberal media" cameras shut off. But if all the journalists in Iraq suddenly packed up and went home, the streets there would be no less bloody.

Published May 12, 2005 12:30PM (EDT)

Iraqi insurgents have unleashed a wave of carnage over the last two weeks, primarily using suicide attacks, in an attempt to disrupt the newly formed Shiite majority government. The eruption of violence has been as intense as any since U.S. troops seized Baghdad more than two years ago. As the New York Times reported late Wednesday -- after yet another series of bombings stretching from Baghdad to Kurdish territory 150 miles north -- the number of Iraqi soldiers, police officers and recruits killed in the wave of attacks now totals more than 250. At least 150 civilians have also been killed during the days of bloodshed, bringing the toll to more than 400 killed. (And undoubtedly many hundreds more wounded.)

This is anything but ho-hum evidence of "some insurgents willing and able to kill civilians," as John Tierney, conservative columnist and heir to William Safire at the New York Times, would have the American public think. This is a lot of insurgents willing and able to kill lots of civilians, and Iraqi and U.S. troops -- despite the continued presence of more than 140,000 of the latter, and despite some fairly rosy prognostications of late from the Pentagon and Bush White House.

If anything, the violence is a potent sign that U.S. and new Iraqi government forces are still unable to get a grip on security, and that the post-Saddam brew of emboldened ethnic factions may well boil over into full-scale civil war. That's a message, of course, that Sunni and other Arab militants operating there would like to get across. Tierney argued earlier this week, to considerable fanfare, that a misguided press is helping them do so. (Perhaps as the new guy on the job he felt he had to make an impression. Peddling a flimsy and not terribly original idea, he did.) But if all the journalists suddenly packed up and went home, the picture of Iraq right now wouldn't look one iota different, at least not for those on the ground. Stateside, it might go from only marginally interrupting "Survivor" and "American Idol," to not interrupting them at all. It might give President Bush a little nudge up from the current quagmire of public disapproval on the war. But changing the channel isn't going to ensure next season's premiere of "Democracy Dawns in the Middle East" any more than it will help bring the men and women in uniform safely back home.

A newsflash for Tierney and all the others on the right eager to declare the media tangled up in its own "liberal bias," or just plain in cahoots with the insurgency: The story here isn't 100 television cameras aiding and abetting the militants. It's 100 years of acid history uncorked by a U.S. invasion. It's the Bush administration planning for the Iraqis to throw flowers -- not their own bodies strapped with explosives -- at their liberators' feet.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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